Eco doubts remain over pipeline

A mammoth pipeline that will transport gas from energy-rich Russia into the heart of Germany has sparked environmental concerns among its critics who claim its construction could stir long-forgotten chemical weapons lying on the seabed.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all claimed that the project could have a catastrophic impact on the environment in their region and have demanded the EU give assurances this will not be the case.

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has gone on record as saying he has no doubt in the professionalism of the companies involved in the construction of the pipeline and that there is no question of environmental impact.

The controversial pipeline will bypass Poland and Ukraine and be laid under the Baltic Sea.

The choice of routes has ruffled diplomatic feathers, with the current transit countries fearful they could lose access to Russian gas as it is piped directly to more affluent markets.

The presidents of the Baltic states have told reporters they are concerned that the ocean floor is an environmental minefield as tons of chemical weapons were dumped there at the end of the Second World War.

A mistake, they say, could lead to the deadly toxic waste being released into the sea.

The pipe will be constructed by German energy giant E.On and state-owned Russian monopoly Gazprom.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been appointed to head up the development of the US$4.75 billion pipeline.

Work officially began on the pipe on Friday, December 9 when two sections were welded together in the Russian town of Babayevo, some 300 miles north of Moscow.

By Sam Bond

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